ACT leader David Seymour has been widely criticised for riding the coat tails of the late Nelson Mandela in an attempt to promote his party's conservative polices. Much less has been said about Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta's attempt to associate Martin Luther King's legacy with the Labour Party. 

A FEW DAYS ago, ACT leader David Seymour tried to ride the coat tails of Nelson Mandela. He claimed that if the former Africa National Congress leader was alive today,  he would be campaigning on behalf of the ACT Party. While we can debate Mandela's politics, including his failure to confront South African capitalism, he was far from being a supporter of the libertarian politics that Seymour professes to support. Seymour's flight of political fancy was suitably shot down by Mandela's own grandson, Kweku Mandela.

But David Seymour is not the only New Zealand politician who has been trying to bask in the reflected glory of an iconic political figure. To mark the 60th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington and Martin Luther King's famous 'I have a dream' speech Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta has tweeted:

'After 60 years of Dr Martin Luther King Jr's 'I have a Dream' speech. His call for equality remains as relevant with us in Aotearoa, reminding us to uphold the values of unity and respect for all'.

Perhaps the reason why MLK's call for equality remains extremely pressing in New Zealand is that, after six years of a Labour Government that Mahuta has been a senior member of, the level of inequality has only worsened.

In March Statistics New Zealand released figures that revealed that, in 2022, 155,000 households did not feel they had enough money to meet their everyday basic needs. Another 460,000 households said they were barely making ends meet. Since then, of course, the steeply rising cost of living has plunged more people into a state of economic desperation. The food banks have never been busier. 

In stark contrast, those living uptown have never it so good. In December the Deloitte Top 200 Index, revealed that New Zealand’s 200 biggest companies increased their combined after-tax profits by 54.6 percent from $6.8 billion in 2021 to $10.5 billion in 2022.

What Mahuta also neglects to say is that MLK, if he was alive today, would have been firmly opposed to the neoliberal economic policies that her Labour Government has pursued. 

For King, the only solution to America’s crisis of poverty was the redistribution of wealth. In 1953 King wrote that 'I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic, capitalism has outlived its usefulness.'

In his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, published in 1967, MLK wrote: 'Capitalism has often left a gap of superfluous wealth and abject poverty and has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few.'

MLK could well have been describing New Zealand in 2023. 


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